Tag Archives: university

Web identity and old media thinking

I posted earlier about my run-in with the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent. 

I had commented on a blog post by professor Tim Luckhurst on the need for journalists (particularly students) always to use the phone and nothing but the phone when sourcing stories.

In the comments to his blog, I argued his underlying argument was somewhat flawed – he disagreed robustly. He’s also paid me a visit here, to say much the same thing

Aside from the specific argument though, the whole storm in a teacup has raised some interesting questions about how old media and academia see the web. 

The Centre for Journalism web site is, on the face of it, a high-tech marvel. It’s been created in Drupal – which readers of this blog will know is something I’m quite interested in. And while it’s aimed primarily at journalism students at the university, its content is open to a wider audience. You have to go through a registration process in order to comment on existing posts, but once you’ve done so you are allowed to upload your own blog posts. Great stuff.

The problem came when I had registered. About 20 minutes later the author posted a reply that criticised me for not using my real name:

“we blog by name at the Centre for Journalism, so please drop the cover of anonymity and argue your case in person”

Oh. OK. Well, I did poke around and discover that rule a bit later, but actually the site doesn’t mention that in the sign-up procedure. Which is kind of dumb. (As soon as I pointed this out, it was rectified, mind, which is good going for a university web site.)

But seriously – what does that mean?  I could easily have registered with my real name (Simon Clarke – it’s no great secret), but no one is actually aware of it online. My web identity – which is my real identity in the blogging world – is Freelance Unbound, obviously. And while I don’t have a massive readership, it has a certain traction on the web that my ‘real’ name doesn’t. It is, in effect, my brand. 

As for the whole accusation of anonymity – well. It’s simple enough for readers of the comment to click through to this blog and find out all about me – even emailing me with whatever comments or questions they like. And they’d get an email back from my ‘real’, ie personal, email address.  

Only at the Centre for Journalism, of course, it doesn’t work like that. 

Its blog comments don’t allow readers to post a link to their own site, or even their email address – which means that anyone wanting to find out a bit more about commentators are stuck. It’s a policy that undermines the entire premise of the web – its interactivity – and instead treats its visitors like passive consumers. Yes, you can comment, but you can’t build up a relationship with other readers. 

Or you can – but it has to be all conducted at the university’s web site. It’s a bit like they’re saying the internet’s a great party, but you can only enjoy it here. If someone else wants to host the party, we won’t let anyone we know have an invitation. (Though tellingly, his comment on this blog gets him a nice link to his web site. Which doubtless many readers will want to click through to.)

The tenor of the post and its response to comments also underline the fact that this isn’t the web as we know it. Sure, Luckhurst can defend his position robustly – it’s his blog. But his argument is that he was addressing a particular issue to do with students, and that I (or anyone else) shouldn’t have broadened the debate in that way.

But this is an open blog post, making sweeping statements about how journalism should and should not be conducted. It even invites comments. But if the only comments that are acceptable are ones that agree with the post, it kind of makes the whole idea of online debate redundant. 

My take is that if you want to communicate a point of teaching to students and make sure they only get that message, try a group email. Or, for heaven’s sake, turn off the comments to the post. It’s easy enough to do. 

The great thing about the web is that it’s a great leveller. Anyone can be a content producer and a publisher. And the web’s inbuilt interconnectivity make it easier than it’s ever been to develop an audience and, more importantly, to create a network of readers and contributors. 

Old media and, it seems, academia, still just don’t get that…


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Why journalists should sometimes look beyond the phone

I just got into an interesting spat with Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism

Apparently he thinks only the phone is good enough for journalists to use to chase up stories.

For contact with interviewees or sources of information the telephone is ALWAYS the right way to make the first approach […] There is no room for debate about this. 

Well, uh, I think there is (hence his slightly snarky defence later on in the post’s comments section).

I use email far more than the phone now when writing features (OK, that’s not news reporting – I understand that. But then, journalism/media isn’t all news reporting either.) 

It has clear benefits – particularly if you’re dealing with people in different time zones, the people you’re dealing with prefer to use digital communications rather than the phone, or simply that you’re trying to contact people at a tech firm.

Tech firms in particular live online – it’s the water they swim in, so it makes a lot of sense to fish in that pool if you want to reach them. 

As a journalist, I’ve covered the response of retail and service companies to the explosion of digital communications available. The savviest companies expend some effort in making sure they use the right one to reach their customers – not everyone wants to be called up; not everyone uses email; some people still prefer a letter. 

It’s a lesson that journalism needs to learn too. There’s a generation growing up who only use SMS and Facebook to communicate. In a few years’ time, when a journalist from Kent University is beaten to a story by someone who understands that and gets to a source by text first, maybe the penny will drop…

[HT: FleetStreetBlues]


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I enjoy blathering about journalism to Kingston students

KingstonToday I spent an hour in a vast lecture theatre giving a talk about freelance journalism to first-year students at Kingston University. 

It was great fun, actually, and I got to use their super high-tech AV equipment (which luckily didn’t break down on me). That’s me on the right looking suitably dorky in front of a huge screen shot of this blog. Oh yes – I never miss an opportunity to pimp Freelance Unbound in public. 

Apart from the fact that I should really wear a jacket (invaluable style advice from my personal grooming consultant), it went quite well.

What did I blather about? My own erratic freelance career path through business publishing; the relentless need to skill up in order to stay employable; and, well, money – or the lack of it in journalism. There’s no use leaving the kids starry-eyed and thinking it’s a way to easy cash, frankly. 

I was deliberately a bit jaded and cynical about it all – but I should stress that this is a better way to earn a living than anything involving, say, heavy lifting. 

The audience was pretty quiet for the most part – partly because they were first years. I think the third years had essay deadline issues. Or maybe the glorious sunshine outside proved a stronger draw than me. Difficult though that is to believe.

But a tip for future student audiences – don’t be shy; ask more questions. Visiting lecturers love questions. Seriously. That’s what we’re here for.


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Young people aren’t quite the web experts you think they are

Just finished my first teaching session at Solent University – giving first year journalism students an introduction to web audio.

It all went fine – certainly I had no trouble from the IT, unlike other teaching experiences I’ve had [*cough* UCA], and the students were, in the way of all the journalism students I’ve taught so far, very pleasant young people.

It’s interesting though, that the preconceptions of most old folks [read: over 35] about youth being super web-literate don’t quite match up to reality.

There is an exception, of course, which we’ll get to in a bit. But ask most young students about the web, everything from podcasts to blogging, and they just don’t seem that interested.

My lot today were about 60:40 uninvolved with web audio. A few of them had listened to mainstream podcasts – Ricky Gervais, for example, or Jon Richardson on 6Music, or the Radio 1 podcast. But many hadn’t been exposed to audio content at all – and certainly not from the more eccentric fringes of the web, such as special interest sci-fi fan-podcasts, freewheeling political commentry or techno-geekery. 

In a similar way, my first year UCA blogging students don’t really seem that interested in blogs as a communications tool – the vast majority don’t spend time posting to their blog, seeing it as more a chore they have to do in class than the chance to self-publish and build a portfolio, while learning about building an audience on the way.

It’s a puzzle. Especially given the exception I noted above. The exception is – obviously – Facebook. 

Students spend lots of time on Facebook: building their profile, networking, taking an interest in their peer group. And, yes communicating in a way that doesn’t seem to come so naturally in their actual journalism studies.

Why should this be?

I’m beginning to wonder if the web as it is understood by even the most internet-savvy old-school media professionals is the real future of internet communications.

Old-style publishing hacks like me and my peers think we’re really ahead of the curve by blogging, understanding web analytics and talking about podcasts. But in reality perhaps what we are doing is just mapping old ways about thinking about media on to the new form. Maybe podcasts are nothing more than ham radio updated for the 21st century. And as for blogging – well, as Wired said a few months ago: Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004.

Newspapers already have their own Facebook groups, and, yes, the New York Times has all of 362,457 fans.  (The Plymouth Herald went one better and launched a social networking site of its own, though the move seems a little pointless [HT: Martin Stabe/Andy Dickinson]). But I think they are only scratching the surface. 

The big challenge – for journalism generally and people like me trying to teach it – is to understand what journalism will be in the future. It’s not just old media spruced up for interactivity, even on Facebook. It’s a radically new way of communication. Maybe it’s not just the business model of journalism that is broken. Maybe our cultural ideas of journalism are completely outdated too. 

And maybe that’s the reason that my first years seem so disconnected with what we oldies think of as cutting edge media.

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Instant video blogging

Today’s first year Farnham blogging workshop almost collapsed under the weight of UCA’s unspeakably terrible IT infrastructure. Note to the college – SORT IT OUT. None of the students’ Macs could actually launch software, and took about ten minutes to log in. If they could at all. That’s how bad it was.

But, after dealing with major IT suckage, we managed to put together a few video interview clips on that perennial favourite topic, Michael Jackson’s extended O2 residency. After cobbling together a group iMovie cut on the one machine we could get working my laptop, after that one fell over too, we uploaded it to YouTube and the code should be embedded on the various student blogs before too long. 

The whole exercise took no more than three hours – most of which was spent waiting for the beach ball of death to stop spinning. I will never get those hours of my life back. Thanks UCA.

The poll question was (roughly): “What do you think of the news that Michael Jackson is extending his O2 residency to 45 nights, and would you buy a ticket?”

Here is the cut – just to show that we managed to achieve something against all odds. The film-making quality is a bit grim, especially the sound – but that’s not the point. The point is to show the technical ease of video publishing. Also, watch out for the edit in the middle that cuts out a crucial question, and leaves the interviewee making a bit of a weird non-sequiter.

Things we learned in the workshop

Good subjects for quick online video are:

  • Video diary of students doing something interesting (quirky, amusing, dangerous, unusual)
  • Vox pop about a hot topic (Jade Goody, Michael Jackson or, you know, something serious)
  • Reviews – instead of writing a review of a restaurant or bar, video it, like this one in Washington DC.
  • Interview someone – this video interviews the head of a tech company at an IT conference. You could do it at a gaming event, a fashion show, a gig – whatever.

Use iMovie or Movie Maker for a very quick cut of a simple video clip – easy to do and easy to export to web-compressed Quicktime movie. You can then upload this to YouTube and paste the embed code into your site/blog.

Technology: any digital camera with a movie setting that can shoot AVI clips [most do these days]. Any phone with a video camera that lets you transfer the clip to computer. A small camcorder such as the Flip video camera.

You can also broadcast live via your web site. Use Qik to broadcast via video phone (there’s a limited number of compatible phones as yet), or Ustream to broadcast from your PC or laptop. Then embed the saved video files in a post or page later.

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Would you go and see Michael Jackson live?

This burning question popped up in this morning’s blogging masterclass – an ideal topic for a blog post, coupled with a poll question (now added to the sidebar below. Will it work? Who knows. UPDATE: Yes it does. Fantastic).

So – voting in the seminar room seems to split along the lines of “Yes”, “No”, “Not now – only in the past”, and: “Only if his nose falls off”. (And “Michael Who?” for those more interested in the Premiership).

Voting is now open…

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My first-year student blog masterclass

A last-minute booking to sit in on first-year undergrads at UCA Farnham’s journalism course means I get to wade through a pile of blogs in a professional capacity – as opposed to my usual practice of wading through a pile of blogs for geeky fun.

The students are doing the online module, which means they are supposed to be learning about blogging. All the highbrow blogging-as-social-commentary stuff should have been covered, which means I get to look at the fun stuff like How to Build Your Audience.

Fun? you say, incredulously.

Why, yes. Because then I get to talk about how John Scalzi taping bacon to his cat got the second highest traffic of any page on the web on September 15 2006.

Does life get any better?

Also, this means I may actually be able to carve out a tiny niche in the vast “bacon + cat” Google search rankings. Fame, fortune and 65,000 page visits beckon seductively…

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